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Sermon 9/3/00 –
Matthew 25:36 – You Visited Me


You Visited Me

"I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me" (Matthew 25:36)

As this is written, we are participating in Team Meetings that will lead to three days with the inmates of the new Federal Prison, in Victorville, CA.  As we prepare, I am reminded that we ALL tend to be prisoners.  You may be imprisoned in a line of work that is unsatisfactory, a divorce you don’t want; an unhappy marriage; an illness like cancer.  Often we are just in prisons of our own emotions.  We remain in a sort of "cell", surrounded by "walls" of memories and fears, confined in – ourselves.

It’s good to remember the prisoners and the sick, and to visit them.  Indeed, we are urged in Scripture to do so (for example, in Hebrews 13:3).  It is God’s leading that we, as a people, care for those in need, and we can only be complete in life when we respond to His Spirit.  There is a great blessing in going to hospitals and prisons, to the needs of this world.

Part of the blessing is that we finally begin to realize just how wonderful our lives actually are.  Our depression and anger (about who and what we are) should finally melt away, if we see our bodies are not destroyed by cancer, or confined for decades in a very small place.  Even if we are not so favored in those areas, we will find God, and inside, where it counts, we will enter the large and wonderful place of His love.

Some of my friends are quadriplegics, confined to wheelchairs, but also set free in Christ.  One of them, recently paralyzed, is "happier than (he has) been in years" because 1) all the worries about work, bills, and so on, are gone, and 2) his trouble has brought him to Christ.  His whole life, now, is to "be still and know that (Christ is) God" (Psalm 46:10).

When we visit those who are confined, we encounter ourselves, because we are confined also.  Often our confinement is of our own making; sometimes not.  I watched the movie "The Hiding Place" the other night, which is a great example of people who were NOT confined because of themselves.  They were badly treated by evil people.   Our greatest confinement, however, is that we of this new millennium, tend to be emotionally stunted, unable to truly interact with others.  We may be with them, but we are so involved with ourselves that it is like we are in a cell, in some dark place of the soul.

From the time I was called to the ministry, until I was ordained, was a period of over forty years.  Initially, I simply ran from God’s call, but later, when I wanted ordination and it did not come, I entered a life filled with regret and self-recrimination.  I was a "nice" person, I thought, so why wouldn’t God use me, when I wanted to be used by Him?  But I was not ready, because inside I was not truly willing to be His man.

We were designed to love God and serve Him, and to love one another (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18).  But really we actually live for ourselves, and those other relationships tend to only be peripheral to our own needs.  We often develop social skills and can seem quite "charming" to others.  We can seem religious.   We make pleasant conversation and say fine things. But our thoughts are on ourselves and we have little room for the will of God and the needs of other people.

To the extent you are involved with yourself – your pain, your heartache, your problems, your lacks in life – you are in a prison and the walls are in your heart.  You may travel from one end of the earth to the other, but be paralyzed with indecision and doubt.  You need to be like the man who is paralyzed in body, but in his heart, he is free.  To be "naked" as in Matthew 25:36, is to be in need.  You may seem to have everything, but really be in great need.  You need to love God, respond to Him, and then be willing to care for those who are in greater need than you are.

You will never have that "complete" feeling we all want, until you are 1) in Christ, and 2) serving others as He Wills for your life.  Now, you may be physically paralyzed in some way or another.  You may be in some kind of "jail", and be unable to reach out.  You may be in a hospital bed, or you may be poor.  If you are like that or not, your first job is to PRAY.  God LISTENS to your prayers, and He ANSWERS those who reach out to Him.  He may not answer the way we expect, but He WILL answer.

Father, we need You now.  We have been in "prison" and we admit that often we have built those walls – ourselves.  We hide ourselves from our children, our loved ones – those You have given to us.  We keep them OUT, Lord, to protect ourselves, for reasons we do not even understand.  We are paralyzed with fear, and driven into inactivity, when we should care for others.  Turn us, Lord, into a people who will PRAY.  Give us love, Lord, that we will WANT to serve others (including and especially YOU), and teach us to serve with JOY.  We receive You now, dear Lord – we receive Your love.  In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham
Friday Study Ministries